I’m not a trained or licensed counselor.
That’s my disclaimer. But I have read dozens of books, spent hundreds of hours in counseling and led groups dealing with addictions. Most importantly, I’ve experienced addiction in some way for the majority of my life. Either being addicted or living with one.
Here’s the simple truth.
Whether we live in addiction or live with an addict (usually it’s both), the trauma of that lifestyle imprints our being with carved patterns of unhealthy thinking and behavior. It warps our perspective so that our reality is skewed.
We cannot tell what is true.
Lest we think that by addiction I mean alcohol or drugs only, let’s be clear about the addiction to which I refer. We can become chemically addicted to drugs or alcohol, yes. And while those substances garner most attention, we can also be addicted to sex, gambling, shopping, food, control, cleanliness, fears, social media, television, reading, new ideas, extreme sports…basically anything that has mastery over us.
Whatever triggers the pleasure center of our brain and causes a rush of adrenaline or dopamine can become an addiction. In themselves, those hormones and chemicals are beneficial and help us in life, but when we’re hurting, either physically or emotionally, we can seek the release to ease our pain.
Too much of a good thing, as they say.
The downside is trauma induced by the repetition of addictive behavior. Without the hours of training or a state generated license, here’s part 1 of what this layperson has learned about the effects of addiction trauma.
*We don’t know what loving someone really means – Life becomes a struggle to keep others happy while trying to make them love us. This is not what love is all about. We shouldn’t have to make anyone love us. Covering for their indiscretions or making excuses for them (or them for us), taking the responsibility for their actions, carrying the weight of the relationship is not loving, it is enabling. Not meeting their all their needs, demands (or desires), does not make us unloving or cold. Love never demands, it gives. God loves us unconditionally. He loved us first. Healthy people can give and receive love without conditions.
*Lack of trust – Relying on people feels like a dangerous proposition usually because our experience with unhealthy people says they think about what pleases them at the moment, not what is wisest for them or others. Their choices that show lack of consideration for others are hurtful and sometimes cruel. Whether we are the addict or we live with one, constant betrayal leads to suspicion. It becomes difficult to trust, not only those we live with, but anyone.
*Desire for vs. fear of intimacy – Being intimate requires vulnerability. We long to be known and close to others, but we fear them knowing us. Since it’s impossible to be intimate with someone we don’t trust or be vulnerable when we fear disclosure, we can run in and out of relationships. In a healthy relationship, we accept and are accepted without conditions, but addicts hide to alleviate feelings of shame. We leave people guessing about who we really are. Or, we wonder why we can’t seem to get close to the other person. We may try to detach ourselves emotionally from others to feel safe, but that isn’t healthy. Or we may need to detach from someone who is cruel or abusive. Unfortunately, they may then accuse us of being cold or distant. Either way, intimacy eludes or strangles us.
*Seeking fulfillment in other areas – When one area of addiction isn’t enough anymore to keep us numb, our children may become our emotional stability or our work, hobbies, friends, food, shopping; we may even turn to alcohol, drugs, or adulterous relationships to feel better about ourselves and our lives. Unfortunately, the feeling of fulfillment is temporary and we end up setting or continuing patterns that will eventually destroy us and others we love.
When addiction of any type becomes consistent, it grooves patterns in our soul and in our brain. But addiction is only a symptom of a deeper issue. Once we take time to heal the hurts of our life, and make a conscious effort to create new patterns, we find we no longer need the thing we were addicted to. However, depending on each individual situation, some addictions can take days, months or years to overcome.
There is no quick fix for an unhealthy lifestyle and it’s damage.
But there is hope. The Bible said that it’s for our freedom that Jesus Christ came. God loves us and longs for our lives to be abundant and prospering (I’m not talking just about money here). He hurts when we hurt and wants to heal our pain. When we let him REVEAL what’s underneath the issues, and we choose to DEAL with the problems, he can HEAL us so we won’t need something else.
It’s a journey. Join me?